August 7th, 2006
|04:08 pm - What I read on my holidays|
I couldn't find the books I intended to take with me, so I picked up a few in haste:
- 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' by Susanna Clarke (re-read)
- 'Dancing at the Edge of the World' by Ursula Le Guin
- 'Swan Song' by Robert Edric
- 'Moving Pictures' by Terry Pratchett
- 'Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain
Jonathan Strange Susanna Clarke
What a book this is! I loved it even more on re-reading it. I tend to say to people 'the first 100 pages are quite slow' but this time I didn't find it slow at all. I think the first time I read it I was worried that the light pastiche which she begins with would be all there was, so I was holding myself back from really getting committed to the novel, but now that I know it slides with great skill and passion into something darker, I was able to relax and enjoy the humour. She shows great skill with language, using two different writing styles to represent the normal and fairy worlds, and her characterisation is I think economical and yet rich.
Dancing at the Edge of the World
Probably one for Le Guin completists only, but I am one. This is a collection of essays written 1976-88. Some are quite dated, some hold up well. I was interested to read her reviews of the 'Canopus' series by Doris Lessing - she attributes Lessing's severity and authoritarianism to Euro-centric religiosity, but we now know that Lessing was influenced by Islam. There is also a very harsh but I think fair critique of CS Lewis, contrasting his crude and bullying view of 'evil' as something embodied in people (mainly 'outsiders'), with the more subtle view found in his friend Tolkein's writing.
Swan Song by Robert Edric
Edric is a bleak and compassionate historical writer. The last book I read by him (The Book of the Heathen) is set in the Belgian Congo in colonial times. It is dark and painful, and concludes with an act of violence so upsetting that I decided not to read anything more by him, although I think his writing is great. In contrast 'Swan Song' is a minor work I think. Edric has never sold that well, and I think he has made a conscious decision to emulate the best selling Ian Rankin books. I don't think any writer works at his best in that situation. This is a serial killer man hunt set in grimmest Hull. Not bad but not up to his normal standard.
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
A mid-period Pratchett (10th disk world novel I think) which is a mild satire of Hollywood. I thought it was fairly good fun, but quite weak. I think that his characterisation has improved as the series progresses, and it's still at a fairly early stage here. I also think his satire is gentler and less cynical than it became. Hollywood is a soft target. This book however did make me want to go and see a film right away.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A bit redundant to write a review of one of the most famous books ever written. If you haven't read it I would say it is easy to read, and laugh out loud funny in places. It is deliberately disturbing in its portrayal of a viciously racist and violent society supported by people who are genuinely kindly and respectable. I thought the last few chapters took this a bit far, with the morality of the society coming into the text too strongly (it is taken for granted by everyone, including the black people, that black life is work nothing in comparison to white life) and the coincidences piling on thick and fast in traditional Victorian fashion.
I'm far from a Le Guin completist - possibly the opposite, in that I don't think I've ever read any of her non-YA novels past halfway (I abandon books very easily) - but I liked Dancing at the Edge of the World quite a lot. Perhaps it's that she writes well but I'm not usually engaged by her characters; in essays, it's her thoughts, and those are much more interesting.
I agree, the idea-pieces were easily the best bits. I particularly liked her ideas about the different languages used to speak about and within higher and lower status spheres.
I re-read the Earthsea Quartet while you were away - found for 50p in a charity shop. They were enjoyable, but nothing like as rewarding as her essays or more commentary pieces, I think.